Caroline Gilby MW, Isa Bal MS and Darrel Joseph tasted 151 wines, with 8 Outstanding and 67 Highly recommended.
Adriatic whites panel tasting scores
151 wines tasted
Highly recommended 67
Entry criteria: producers and UK agents were invited to submit their current-release white wines from Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro or Bosnia-Herzegovina, single varietals or blends using any grapes, but preferably including a large proportion of indigenous varieties
The eastern shore of the Adriatic sea is better known for its tourism than for wine, but results from this tasting showed that it’s home to many wines to spark wine lovers’ interest. Croatia, with some 1,800km of Adriatic coastline, submitted most wines, but there was also a good showing from Slovenia (47km of coast) and a handful from Bosnia & Herzegovina (just 20km of seashore).
This was an impressive, and often exciting, two-day tasting, with very few poor wines. As Isa Bal MS pointed out: ‘I found the quality to be of a very high standard,’ highlighting, ‘some excellent Malvasia from Croatia and some very well-made, pyrazine-free examples of Sauvignon Blanc from Slovenia.’
Scroll down to see tasting notes and scores for the top wines from the Adriatic whites panel tasting
Local grapes dominated the entries and provided many of the top-scoring wines. Malvasia Istriana (Malvazija Istarska is the local spelling) was the superstar, showing its potential in several styles. It has gone from ordinary workhorse to something quite special in the last two decades. It makes great bright, fruity, appealing wines when vinified cool in steel, though even these simpler versions can keep remarkably well. Among the 2021 wines, the main reservation was that, though quality was generally very good, the wines were all quite similar.
Malvasia is also capable of greatness in a whole range of styles, from classic oak fermentation to skin contact, orange and natural wines aged in other vessels such as clay amphora, larger casks and even acacia wood. Bal noted ‘some very competent winemaking using skin contact and natural yeast’.
Other local grapes also showed well, not least the incredibly rare Grk – grown on a handful of hectares on the island of Korčula – as did Korčula’s other special white grape, Pošip. There’s real intensity and great texture, underscored by a sea-salt mineral freshness in these unique local grapes. Darrel Joseph noted that ‘most of these wines are gorgeous exotica, treasures of where they are so at home’.
There were only a few examples submitted to the tasting of the flagship Rebula grape (Ribolla Gialla) from western Slovenia – though these did show its quality and versatility.
Bosnia & Herzegovina’s flagship Zilavka was praised by Joseph: ‘Zilavka has really been coming into its own in recent years,’ he said. ‘The variety’s wonderful Mediterranean herb and citrus characteristics and its gently elegant acidity shine through in the wines with such focus, clarity and freshness. Even better, Zilavka’s diversity is so enticing. It’s not just about young and fresh steel-aged wines; it does so well also as barrel-matured and – joyously – even as a natural, amber-style wine with age. Such exciting potential!’
Yet it’s not just about local grapes here, and you’ll find several excellent examples of international varieties that can also showcase the terroir. Pinot Gris was particularly strong, with several high-scoring wines showing an intensity and balance that wouldn’t be out of place in Alsace or Collio. There were also some excellent Chardonnays, and Sauvignons in a unique regional style between the aromatic fruitiness of New World and the mineral intensity of the Loire.
All in all, this tasting was evidence of a dynamic, if less well-known part of the wine world that is well worth exploring.
Top scoring Adriatic whites
Caroline Gilby MW is an awarded wine writer, author and speaker, with a passion for the wines of the Balkans, central & eastern Europe and the Black Sea. She is joint DWWA Regional Chair for North, Central & Eastern Europe.
Isa Bal MS is a consultant Master Sommelier. Winner of the prestigious Sommelier Award 2022 from Michelin Guide Great Britain & Ireland, he was also winner of the Best Sommelier of Europe competition in 2008, and was head sommelier for The Fat Duck Group for more than 12 years.
Darrel Joseph has been writing about the wines of central and eastern Europe since 1995, now also covering Croatia, Serbia and all other Balkan wine countries. He is a regular wine judge, educator and speaker, and is joint DWWA Regional Chair for North, Central & Eastern Europe.